Pick n pray: plastics industry support for waste pickers during lockdown

22 April 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202018899

Disaster Management
Green Industries & Renewable Energy
Plastics & Rubber

SOUTH Africa has close to 60 000 waste pickers who play a substantial role in the country’s waste management industry. As part of the country’s informal waste sector, they help recover recyclables from household waste streams, as well as waste materials sent to landfill sites.

That’s according to Plastics|SA, which says that with the country in a national lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, these waste reclaimers have found themselves unable to put food on the table.

“It became clear that South Africa is not only facing a global health pandemic, but increasingly also the possibility of a humanitarian crisis as these waste reclaimers are no longer allowed to work and earn a living,” said Anton Hanekom, Executive Director of Plastics|SA, the umbrella body representing all sectors of the South African plastics industry - including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers, fabricators and recyclers.

Despite the fact that many role-players in the plastics industry are suffering financial losses during this time as they had to either close down or greatly reduce their operations, Plastics|SA, the plastics PROs, the other packaging PROs and Packaging SA rallied together to donate funds when the request was made by Packaging SA.

Working in close partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and in support of the members of the two associations representing the waste pickers/reclaimers, i.e. the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), a total amount of R785,000 was collected within a matter of days.

These funds will now be used to purchase electronic food vouchers that will be sent to the collectors who are on the DEFF database via cellphones and can be redeemed at major supermarket retailers.

“We felt deeply affected by the dire and uncertain circumstances these waste reclaimers, who play an important role in the waste management industry, were facing,” said Mandy Naudé of Polyco, the Polyolefin Responsibility Organisation.

“Because they are not incorporated into the country’s formal waste economy, they tend to lead a hand-to-mouth existence, which means that their income and thus food supply is directly linked to the amount of recyclables they collect on a daily basis, which completely ceased during the period of lockdown ,”

Cheri Scholtz of PETCO highlighted the important role reclaimers play in the recovery of PET bottles and other recyclables in South Africa for reprocessing, and in the process, a lifeline for themselves as reclaimers are paid on a daily basis for the product they deliver to buy-back centres and reprocessors.

“In the current situation, recycling is not an essential service and therefore the loss of access to collection has created great hardship for reclaimers,” she stressed.

Adri Spangenberg, CEO of the Polystyrene Association of SA and the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) said waste pickers make valuable resources available for reintroduction into the economy, while saving landfill airspace.

“In some instances, these informal waste reclaimers are the only people who recover recyclables in municipalities that do not have a two-bin collection system for separation at source. We have a responsibility to support them in these trying times, they are in desperate need to feed their families,” she said.

The South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO) said that the collection of plastics for recycling is a lifeline for many informal waste reclaimers. “At a time when this very livelihood is threatened (because of the lockdown situation) we consider it the least we can do to ensure our collectors and their families have food on the table,” said Johann Conradie, Chairman of SAPRO.

“Aside from supporting sustainable livelihoods, these informal waste reclaimers provide plastic feedstock to our buyback centres and recycling plants. They form the backbone of our recycling economy in South Africa and enable us to achieve the fantastic recycling rates we do,” he added.

Donations can be made into the following bank account:
PAMDEV NPC (t/a Fibre Circle)
Account number: 250791749
Standard Bank | Branch code 005726 | Hillcrest
Reference: Company Name – Food voucher

Companies can request a tax certificate by emailing their details and proof of payment to payments@fibrecircle.co.za.

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